IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Who does this? Who sits down to type an email to his high school basketball coach and offers to help the coach teach basketball to grade- and middle-school hoopsters in a three-week summer camp because he wants to give back to a program that gave him so much?
A 2018 Highland Park High School graduate with five varsity letters (three in basketball, two in baseball), Gussis shot the email to Giants head basketball coach Paul Harris earlier this spring. Harris accepted the proposal, probably in a nanosecond … maybe faster.
“I will always be grateful for what the coaches — Coach Harris, Coach [Ross] Deutsch, all of the others — did for me as a person and as an athlete,” the 6-foot-1, 165-pound Gussis says. “I learned so many valuable lessons through basketball. Huge impact. Playing basketball for Highland Park High School had a huge impact on me.”
A 9-year-old Tyler Gussis was playing in a house league baseball game when he looked at the spectators in the stands and noticed at least nine had arrived to cheer for him. Grandparents, parents, siblings and others bunched together, all poised to applaud Gussis at the plate, Gussis in the field, Gussis running the bases, Gussis chewing bubble gum.
“I didn’t appreciate the support I received then like I do now,” says Gussis, an all-Central Suburban League North center fielder/pitcher last spring and this spring. “I was only 9. But I will always be grateful for how often my family members [mom and dad Pam and Sam; grandparents Lloyd and Randy and Dennis and Miriam; and siblings Holly and Darren] showed up at my games.”
Grateful. Gussis uses the word a lot these days. Genuinely sincere and thankful people utter it often when they can’t look ahead to something big (the start of college this fall at Northeastern University in Boston, in Gussis’ case) without acknowledging the significant roles their loved ones and close friends and coaches and mentors had played in the past.
Gussis’ good friend and baseball teammate TJ Gimbel, a 2018 HPHS graduate, attended the Giants’ Senior Night basketball game this past winter in a T-shirt that made Gussis, a forward and quad-captain, blush and crack up at the same time. On the front of Gimbel’s shirt was a picture of Gussis — as an infant.
“Got some help from his mom for that project,” Gimbel says. “Tyler is 2 years old in the photo, maybe 1. He’s got a smirk going in the photo. Wait … it’s probably a look that is part smirk, part serious. Tyler, today, is a serious kid. I had to wear it on that night, show my support for him. Never a flashy player, his athleticism in basketball never got the attention it deserved.
“I even wore that T-shirt to school one day. Tyler couldn’t believe it when he saw me with it on as I walked toward him in a hallway; you should have seen his reaction.”
What Harris and Deutsch typically saw, postgame, on the faces of area basketball coaches who had scouted the Giants: looks of appreciation.
For Gussis’ game.
“We heard, so many times, ‘I love, absolutely love, what No. 11 [Gussis] does on the court, love how hard No. 11 plays,’ ” says Deutsch, a varsity assistant coach. “When Paul and I watched film of our games, Tyler’s keen awareness at both ends of the court, especially on defense, was quite clear. He played defense for us at all five positions. You know what? He was our best defensive player at all five. Tyler didn’t receive all-league honors, but if coaches in our division had been asked to name a player whose intangibles helped his team the most, Tyler would have been that player, no doubt. He did the dirty work, did all those little things, those subtle things, those valuable things that never show up in a box score. So many of the things Tyler did in basketball games excited his coaches and led to wins.
“Tyler as a player, Tyler as a teammate, Tyler as a young man, I can’t say enough good things about him. The mark Tyler left on our basketball program is an indelibly etched one”
Gussis carved out a special baseball season this spring with his bat and his arm and his legs. One of five captains and the team leader in batting average (.427), slugging percentage (.553), on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.036), RBIs (31) and stolen bases (14), Gussis fanned only five times in 118 at-bats, a puny strikeout percentage of 4.2. He went 5-1 on the mound with two shutouts and a 2.54 ERA for a 16-14 club. One of his shutouts — a three-hitter — came against Maine West, a Class 4A regional champion. Gussis ripped one of his six doubles in the same game.
“I might email the Northeastern baseball coach [Mike Glavine, brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine], and I might try to make the team as a walk-on,” says the respectful, modest, polite-to-the-bone Gussis, who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur after his college days.
Gimbel, who led Giants pitchers in wins this spring with six, has a story about Gussis in his pocket, one that reveals a side to Gussis that many have not seen. It’s rich. It’s entertaining.
Gimbel shares the story.
“We’re playing 3-on-3 basketball in a driveway, after lowering the rim to eight or eight-and-half feet,” Gimbel begins. “Tyler pin-blocks a layup attempt by the guy he’s guarding. It was clean, legitimate. But I think somebody questioned it, thought it might have been goaltending. Tyler gets animated and shouts, ‘No, no, no, no! No way! That was not goaltending!’ Anybody who knows Tyler knows he’s a pretty quiet guy. What he did that day was something he never would have done in a game while playing for Highland Park High School, because he had too much respect for the program and the game, and he would have disappointed his coaches with a response like that.
“All of us out there enjoyed the moment. There we were, most of us having fun in a driveway, and Tyler is competing like it’s the most meaningful game of his life. You have to love that.”